Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith

New Orleans in the Wake of Katrina

Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith

Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 12 photographs Published: March 2013

Author: Vincanne Adams

American Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Sociology > Urban Studies

Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is an ethnographic account of long-term recovery in post-Katrina New Orleans. It is also a sobering exploration of the privatization of vital social services under market-driven governance. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, public agencies subcontracted disaster relief to private companies that turned the humanitarian work of recovery into lucrative business. These enterprises profited from the very suffering that they failed to ameliorate, producing a second-order disaster that exacerbated inequalities based on race and class and leaving residents to rebuild almost entirely on their own.

Filled with the often desperate voices of residents who returned to New Orleans, Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith describes the human toll of disaster capitalism and the affect economy it has produced. While for-profit companies delayed delivery of federal resources to returning residents, faith-based and nonprofit groups stepped in to rebuild, compelled by the moral pull of charity and the emotional rewards of volunteer labor. Adams traces the success of charity efforts, even while noting an irony of neoliberalism, which encourages the very same for-profit companies to exploit these charities as another market opportunity. In so doing, the companies profit not once but twice on disaster.


Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith offers a nuanced, sophisticated and long-term account of the misery faced by New Orleans residents in the years after the Hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005. . . . Adams’ rich description, plethora of personal interviews and close-knit observations provide insight into the impact of Hurricane Katrina in bringing to the forefront of debate the basic social, environmental and economic vulnerabilities that characterise US society.” — Kevin Fox Gotham, Times Higher Education

“This work helpfully describes how not to handle a recovery. Recommended not only for Gulf Coast collections, but also for academic libraries supporting programs in public administration or emergency preparedness.” — Sonnet Ireland, Library Journal

“Adams recounts heartbreaking stories of people stonewalled by Road Home, beset by depression and suicide, living rooms full of paperwork, still waiting for money promised to them. . . . In concert with the rest of the study, the two chapters on Road Home represent a true triumph of the potential of politically informed ethnography.” — Thomas Jessen Adams, American Quarterly

“[T]his cautionary tale from New Orleans… provides intellectual tools for those who want to build 'another world' where meeting human need, not profit, becomes society’s organizing principle.” — John Arena, Journal of Anthropological Research

“A powerful analysis and critique of how the second-order disaster of failed relief to the victims of Katrina is symptomatic of federal monies used by for-profit businesses to fill their coffers off ‘affect surplus’ (p. 149) and the ‘value-added’ (p. 151) free labor of volunteers with bigger hearts than wallets.” — Daniel Maber, Arkansas Review

“In the practice of public administration, we remain accountable for the responsibilities of government and the practice of public management. Transparency is paramount if the victims who become the consumers of aid relief are to retain faith in the equity and ethics of the process of crisis recovery. Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is a book recommended for scholars and practitioners exploring the ethical dilemmas surrounding public management in the face of disaster.” — Nicole L. Cline, Public Integrity

Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith uses Hurricane Katrina as an example to illustrate the ways in which privatization of disaster relief, and indeed all social services, is ‘creating a slippery slope for those who would use public resources for private gain at the expense of those who are left to fend for themselves’ (9). Adams uses her training as an anthropologist to highlight the ways in which the victims’ relationships to, and interaction with, society have shifted because of economic forces. To this, she adds the focus of a social economist in investigating the ways in which an entire economic system can negatively impact vulnerable communities.” — Salimah Hankins and Balthazar Becker, Social Text

“Adams’s book is worth reading because her sophisticated, strongly argued and well-substantiated structural analysis and critique of neo-liberal policy in practice is skilfully intertwined with critical ethnographies that heartbreakingly detail the needless suffering – including deaths – that disaster victims endured from this second-order disaster.” — Kyle W. Kusz, Ethnic and Racial Studies

Markets of Sorrow is undoubtedly an important contribution to studies of Katrina and the reconfiguration of disaster recovery through affective registers within neoliberalism. Its most notable contribution is in the ways in which it highlights how Katrina recovery has produced and refined new assemblages for disaster recovery that tie non-profits, faith-based organizations, and social movements to private, for-profit, and governmental institutions.” — Helen Morgan Parmett, Culture Machine

"As the stories collected from over 160 households in various flooded neighbourhoods of New Orleans attest, these companies routinely fell short of providing disaster-affected households with the resources necessary to reconstruct, even as they posted increased earnings and rising stock values, rewarded executives with millions of US dollars in bonuses, and charged inflated processing fees to the US federal government.' — Roberto E. Barrios, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“This is public anthropology at its best, not only addressing core topics of our discipline but also illuminating social, economic and political issues that concern us all.” — Stephan Kloos, Social Anthropology

"Adams's excellent account documents how the neoliberal recovery process exacerbated and prolonged (not ameliorated) the natural and human disaster." — Mickey Lauria, Urban Geography

"If you’re teaching about the ethnography of the U.S., disasters, globalization, or economic anthropology, this would be a good book.... It offers a critique of neoliberalism that might help your students better comprehend some of their own Kafkaesque miseries and help them to develop their own critiques of the structures that contain them and their generation." — Paul Durrenberger, City & Society

"Vincanne Adams’s Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is a moving anthropological account of the impact and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. . . . [A] must read for all geographers embracing qualitative research in a hazard context and beyond." — Phil O’Keefe, AAG Review of Books

"Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is public anthropology at its finest. Vincanne Adams has written a devastating portrait of market failure in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and a cautionary tale about what might happen if the private sector takes charge of the welfare state." — Eric Klinenberg, author of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

"Everybody's disaster is somebody's good luck. As disaster capitalism becomes an ever larger segment of the post-climate-change economy, New Orleans provides a fundamental case history. Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith describes in damning detail what happens to the social contract when disaster means profit, with the markup paid in human suffering. Meanwhile, churches, charities, and volunteers add up to a big business of unpaid work. Vincanne Adams's feeling for how the soulful people of New Orleans created their own recoveries comes through on every page." — Ned Sublette, author of The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square

"Vincanne Adams has given us a brilliant and poignant ethnographic account of post-Katrina New Orleans. This is an ambitious intervention not only in how we understand the iconic 'disaster' that is Katrina but also in how we understand neoliberalism writ large. Adams breaks new ground by showing how the making of market rule is entangled with endeavors of relief, humanitarianism, charity, welfare, and faith. This is not just the story of New Orleans; it is the story of aid and development everywhere. Markets of Sorrow, Labors of Faith is thus a model for social scientific inquiry in the twenty-first century." — Ananya Roy, author of Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Vincanne Adams is Professor of Medical Anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, History and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. She has written and edited numerous books in medical anthropology, including Sex and Development: Science, Sexuality and Morality in Global Perspective (coedited with Stacy Leigh Pigg) also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
1. It's Not about Katrina 1

2. The Making of a Disaster 22

3. "If This Could Happen to Us, It Could Happen to Anyone" 55

4. Navigating the Road Home 74

5. Getting to the Breaking Point 99

6. Faith in a Volunteer Recovery 126

7. Charity, Philanthrocapitalism, and the Affect Economy 153

8. Katrina as the Future 176

Acknowledgments 191

Notes 193

Bibliography 213

Index 225
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5449-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5434-5
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